When Feather River College started offering classes 50 years ago, its mission was simple: offer transfer classes and a few vocational programs to residents of Plumas County. This was at a time when Plumas County had a large tax base due to a thriving timber industry and ten years before Proposition 13 tax reforms were enacted. The world has changed in the past 50 years, and so have the mandates from the California legislature, forcing FRC to change the way it serves the community and beyond.
There are two interesting facts about California community colleges that shock most people when I discuss FRC: (1) community colleges have a cap on the number of students we are funded to serve and (2) tuition plays a minor role in funding community colleges.
From its inception until 2018, FRC and other community colleges were funded per student, with a formula converting “seat time” attendance into a Full Time Equivalent Student (FTES) value. One FTES equals one student taking 15 units each semester for a full year. What is shocking people with whom I speak is that FRC is currently capped at 1,637 FTES. This means that the state will only pay FRC for 1,637 in-state students, each of whom takes a full load of 15 units per semester. This 1,637 FTES can be chopped up and split amongst any number of students who are part time or take overload classes, but when you add up the totals, FRC is not funded by the State of California for any attendance over the 1,637 cap. Out-of-state and international students do not factor into this enrollment cap. The fact that FRC has an enrollment cap for in-state student revenue surprises many people.
New Funding Formula
Starting in 2018, the Legislature enacted a new Student Centered Funding Formula. Instead of 100 percent of income coming from enrollment, now only 70 percent of FRC income comes from seat time attendance calculations. An additional 20 percent comes from the Access Portion of the formula, which pays colleges more money for students who have demonstrated financial need by being eligible for financial aid programs like Pell Grants, the California Promise Program (free tuition for first-time California residents), and AB 540 Dream Act students. The goal is to remove the financial barrier to attendance and colleges are financially rewarded for enrolling students in these categories. The final 10 percent of FRC funding comes from the Student Success Portion, which rewards colleges for students who make expedited progress towards degrees and certificates, transfer to a university, and earn a living wage for their major after graduation. The goal of the Student Success Portion is to ensure that students enter a path towards graduation and colleges provide the necessary support and offer classes for educational success.
The new student success
Funding Formula is designed to have students pick a major early in their studies, then use the available college support necessary to navigate their chosen pathway and graduate in a timely manner and move on to relevant employment or transfer to a university. Colleges are now funded based upon these ideals instead of being fully funded simply on enrollment. FRC is very strong in this regard as evidenced by the new formula increasing FRC funding 7.9 percent this year due to high graduation, success, and retention rates compared to other colleges in the state.
Tuition does not provide a majority of income
Whether FRC’s income came from the old FTES enrollment formula or the new Student Centered Funding Formula, tuition (technically called an “enrollment fee“) plays a minor role in California community college revenue. If a student is fully funded by the State of California by hitting all of the bonus funding factors in the new funding formula, FRC would receive approximately $5,457 from the state for each student. Full time in-state tuition is less than $800 per semester with the remainder of the $5,457 being made up through state apportionment funding. Factor in the College Promise free tuition program, and the percent of total income from tuition at FRC is significantly less than 7 percent overall. It should also be noted that the Legislature sets the same tuition for all California community colleges, as tuition fees began in 1984.
As mentioned above, out-of-state tuition and international students are not factored into the new funding formula. On the contrary, non-residents must pay their full amount as no state tax dollars are used to subsidize their education. In other words, the tuition for non-residents is much higher than California residents and FRC gets to keep this larger revenue on top of any state funding for California residents.
Legislature imposes new regulations
In the Proposition 13 funding times, FRC was able to offer many classes above and beyond transfer classes, associate degree programs, and vocational training. Community interest courses in woodworking, dance, and craft classes were common throughout the state. With the recession of 2007, the Legislature changed the enrollment rules to help ensure that students moved through the system. With the financial crisis, California legislators were hesitant to fund colleges that limited enrollment in nursing, math, sciences, English and history while some colleges were expanding adult interest classes in golf and yoga. California put strict limits on any enrollment that was not considered a core academic or vocational program. Repeatability limits were enacted where students could no longer repeat classes multiple times, further disallowing community-based interest classes. Students who had earned more than 90 units overall were discouraged from continuing to attend community colleges and new students were given enrollment priorities to make sure they could get the classes needed to graduate.
Throughout the 2000s, FRC had a large community-interest program that allowed residents to access the Fitness Center through low cost FRC classes. This enrollment was disallowed by the state during the recession, and FRC accordingly dropped most of its community offerings for college credit. Overall, resident FTES declined significantly as a result. This model still exists today and answers another question I am often asked “Why don’t you offer aerobics/woodworking/Elderhostel/etc. for low tuition and college credit anymore?”
Supporting the community
Feather River College places a priority on Plumas County residents for enrollment and programs that fit the educational goals of Plumas residents. Through persistent outreach to local schools, FRC has a “capture rate” in excess of 50 percent, whereby well over half of the Plumas County high school graduates enroll at FRC within six years of their high school graduation. This rate is very high compared to other colleges in the state.
FRC has evolved from serving only Plumas County residents based upon funding through attendance to a new formula that rewards expedited graduation and enhanced access to college. Additional constraints of capping in-state enrollment and mandates to remove community interest classes from the academic curriculum now exist.
It is a juggling act to balance the budget based upon ever-evolving state mandates for enrollment. FRC is exemplary in this regard with contract education programs, online courses, and statewide initiatives that serve the needs of students from Plumas County and beyond. Through all of this change, FRC still maintains one of the most robust fiscal positions of any college in the state. It is this foundation that will allow FRC to adapt to changing legislation for the next 50 years while fulfilling its mission of serving the community.